Agricultural Use Requirements
Chief appraisers in Texas know that a landowner’s wildlife management use must meet all the requirements to qualify for agricultural use, defined in Tax Code Section 23.51(1). This article offers a brief discussion of the principal issues involved in agricultural use of land used for wildlife management. First, let’s talk about primary use. The law requires agriculture to be the primary use of the land if it has an ag tax valuation. Wildlife management is an agricultural use under the law. The primary use requirement is particularly important for land used to manage wildlife. For example, land devoted to wildlife management can be used as a residence for the owner, but the land will not qualify if residential use — and not wildlife management — is the land’s primary use.
Chief appraisers across Texas gather and consider all the relevant facts to determine if a property is primarily used to manage wildlife. Some important questions they will consider when reviewing an application for a wildlife tax valuation are presented below:
- Is the property owner implementing an active, written, wildlife management plan that shows he or she is engaging in activities necessary to preserve a sustaining breeding population on the land?
An landowner’s management plan is required and must be submitted for each tract of land for which qualification is sought. A management plan is clear evidence of the owner’s use of the land primarily for wildlife management. A good plan will usually list wildlife management activities with the appropriate seasons and/or sequence of events.
- Do the owner’s management practices emphasize managing the population to ensure its continued existence over another use of the land?
For example, does the owner refrain from allowing visitors on the land in years when the habitat is sensitive?
- Has the owner engaged in the wildlife management practices necessary to sustain and encourage the population?
In some cases, an owner must control predators and supply water when water is not adequate, supply shelter and food when natural food production is not adequate and establish vegetation to control erosion. In other cases, less active management may maintain and encourage the growth of wildlife.
- Are there improvements — appropriate fencing, for example — necessary to control or sustain the wildlife population?
An property owner may use land for purposes that are secondary to the primary use — wildlife management — if the secondary use is compatible with the primary use. For example, an owner may engage in wildlife management and also operate a business in which bird watchers stay on the land overnight and watch for birds during the day (known as a bird and breakfast operation). This activity is secondary to the primary activity of managing the wildlife, but it is not incompatible with the wildlife management use.
Degree of Intensity for Wildlife Management Use
The degree-of-intensity standard for wildlife management land is determined in the same way as other agricultural uses. Wildlife management land usually requires management practices that encourage long-term maintenance of the population.
A chief appraiser may ask questions such as whether fencing is typical in the area for managing the target wildlife population, and what is the typical population size? In addition, the chief appraiser should ask how many of the following activities are typical in the area: habitat management, predator management, erosion control, providing supplemental supplies of food or water, providing shelter, and engaging in census counts (wildlife surveys).
Because wildlife management activities are elements of the degree of intensity determination, an owner must be engaging in three of seven activities to the degree of intensity typical for the area. General principles of the degree of intensity have been established by Texas ecoregion.
Historical Use Requirement for Wildlife Valuation
Land must have qualified for 1-d-1 agricultural use and been appraised as 1-d-1 agricultural use in the year before the owner changes its use to wildlife management. Consequently, the time-period test to determine if the land has been used for agriculture for five of the preceding seven years usually is not necessary.
The wildlife management use is a revenue-neutral use of land. The owner who switches from another agricultural use to wildlife management use must pay the same amount of property taxes that would have been paid if the land had remained in its former agricultural use. Land qualified for wildlife management should be placed in a wildlife management category, but should have the same appraised value as before its conversion to wildlife management use. If that land use category’s value subsequently changes in the county, the new category values would apply to those tracts under wildlife management use in that category.
Switching to Wildlife Management Use
The law does not require an annual application for agricultural use once the land has qualified. Because only 1-d-1 qualified land may qualify for wildlife management use, an owner who changes to this use need not reapply for agricultural appraisal in subsequent years. The law, however, does require an owner who changes the category of agricultural use to notify the chief appraiser of the change.
When an owner changes agricultural uses to wildlife management use, the landowner is required submit their management plan and notify the chief appraiser in writing before May 1 of the year in which the owner wants to qualify under wildlife management use. The chief appraiser then will determine if the land qualifies for wildlife management use. Likewise, an owner must notify the chief appraiser if land is switched from wildlife management use to another qualifying agricultural use.